Blue Ridge moonset

Education in an era of global environmental change

Perceiving global environmental change should be fundamental to all education” — Mitchell Thomashow*

Blue Ridge moonset
Moonset over the Blue Ridge Parkway above Asheville, North Carolina (Photo by T.S. Bremer)

One goal of education in the modern world, whether private or public, elementary or graduate, has been to produce responsible, informed, and morally astute citizens. Initially, that meant religious education, specifically Christian in places like the United States. It has long included a patriotic, nationalist dimension, and at least since the middle of the twentieth century the emphasis has been on career preparation. Today we need to add another urgent purpose to education: awareness of global environmental change.

No issue faces the global community with more urgency and more dire consequences than human-caused environmental disruption. As Mitchell Thomashow remarks, “In all of my teaching and consulting, I remind people that sustainability is a response to a planetary emergency: we’re in the early stages of a mass extinction, we have dynamically changing oceanic and atmospheric conditions, we have plunging levels of biodiversity.”* Every citizen deserves to be aware of the implications of this unprecedented cataclysmic moment in human history, and each of us need the skills to contribute to finding ways of dealing with it.

Education is not worth much if it does not offer this. Educated graduates at the very least need an awareness about the changing global climate and how every subject of study—whether it be the natural sciences, social sciences, languages, literatures, philosophy, religions, or the arts—is implicated and connected to the future wellbeing of the planet’s environments. A diploma is little more than a fancy piece of paper if it does not open doors to making the world a better place, and nothing threatens the aspirations of a better world than environmental degradation.

*[Mitchell Thomashow’s comments came in a 2015 conversation on “ecological imagination” at the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment.]

 [Daily post 033 of 260 in my year-long challenge.] ♨

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